#211 1972 Spanish Grand Prix

2022-02-07 23:00

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#211 1972 Spanish Grand Prix

The Spanish event is the first World Championship Grand Prix on the European continent for 1972, and it is the turn of the artificial Jarama circuit,

The Spanish event is the first World Championship Grand Prix on the European continent for 1972, and it is the turn of the artificial Jarama circuit, north of Madrid, to play host to the country’s major race, it being run last year at Barcelona. Time is a great healer, for two years ago when the Spanish GP was held at Jarama the whole affair was a bit of an organisational farce and afterwards everyone stormed off saying never again. Fortunately the organisation has learn from their mistakes and this year the race runs as smoothly as the previous one has been turbulent. In order to coincide with a national holiday, in the hope of attracting larger crowds the race is to be held on Monday, May 1st, so practice is arranged for the previous Saturday and Sunday, from 12:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on both days. Surprisingly there are no grumbles from the teams or demands for more practice, probably because they have all had a good slog round before the Saturday official session. Indeed, one gets the impression that there is a distinct groove worn round the circuit and all you have to do is to slot your car into the groove and set off. Your time depend on how fast you enter the straight past the pits, what speed you attain down the hill onto the straight, and how brave you are in braking for the sharp right-hand bend at the end. The rest of this twisty little artificial circuit is all stop-and-go and not much of a test of a real Grand Prix driver or much of a challenge to their skill, and to listen to some of today’s top drivers you get the impression that the last thing they want is a challenge to their ability; you are supposed to accept that because they are in a Formula One car they have inordinate skill and ability and you should not ask them to prove it. With a lap speed of just over 95 m.p.h. the Jarama circuit is not exactly a circuit to prove the ability of a great Grand Prix driver, in just the same way that Brands Hatch club circuit or Mallory Park does not prove the value of an ace motorcycle rider like the Isle of Man TT circuit does.
With only two hours in which to put in a good lap in the 1'20"0 bracket nobody wastes any time in getting under way on Saturday and the pits are somewhat chaotic with cars dashing in and out, lucky drivers swopping from one car to a spare one, waves of advertising men poncing up and down with sponsor’s troupes of colourful dolly-birds, cars being wheeled off for repair, others being wheeled in for action, everyone trying to time their own driver as well as the opposition, and all the fun of the fair and the merry-go-round. The only thing missing is a performing monkey. Meanwhile the very efficient timekeepers are logging the whole affair and when the pandemonium dies down they produce some revealing figures. Emerson Fittipaldi, as distinct from Wilson Fittipaldi, is the only driver to get below 1'20"0, with a time of 1'19"79, his nearest rival being Stewart with 1'20"27 which he records in Tyrrell 004, the newest of the timber-merchant’s cars. Fittipaldi does a total of 38 laps in his black and gold Lotus, while Stewart does 28 laps in each of his cars, wasting no time in getting back in the swing of things, not having raced since the South African GP back in March. An interesting fact is that Andretti does only 5 laps in his Ferrari before the engine blows up yet he records a best lap of 1'21"84, whereas most people do around 30 laps of practice and not many are faster than the Italian-American driver. The record for practice must surely have gone to Ecclestone’s Brabham team, for Hill does 44 laps in the new BT37 and Wilson Fittipaldi does 49 laps in the old BT33, so neither of them experienced much trouble, for there just is not time tor any. The March works team are the complete reverse and the new 721X cars are being very tiresome, Lauda’s new gear-change mechanism giving the mechanics headaches, and Beuttler’s experimental 721G is nothing like race-worthy. With twenty-six drivers thrashing round the two hours of practice pass incredibly quickly but it does mean plenty of time for repairs, renovation or preparation for the next official session at the same time on Sunday.
With the excellent pits arrangement whereby each pit is its own self-contained garage and workshop, the teams merely have to close up the pit-counter shutters at the end of practice and get on with their work without moving any tools or equipment, an arrangement that other circuit builders can well copy. At midday on Sunday the Ring Master gives the signal and the merry-go-round starts up again, faster and more furiously than before, for this is the last opportunity to get a good position on the starting grid. At one time it is a matter of personal pride for a top driver to be on pole position on the grid, but today one gets the impression that the main reason is to get the sponsor’s name or colour scheme to the forefront of any starting-line photographs that might be published. During the opening hour Hulme and Andretti seem to throw caution to the winds and have a little private dust-up that is enjoyable to watch, and the Ferrari team are trying old-fashioned type narrow nose cowlings in place of this year’s full-width Tyrrell-type cowlings. Fittipaldi is looking impressively smooth and unhurried, yet consistently under 1'20"0, and seems to be getting the best out of the Lotus 72, which is still the most stable-looking of today’s cars when driven properly. Unfortunately his practice comes to a sudden stop when the Cosworth engine brakes, so Walker is taken out of the second Lotus 72 (John Player Special to the 1972 with it, whizz-kids) and Fittipaldi continues practice in it, running under Walker’s number of 21 instead of his own number 5, the timekeepers being informed and noting the fact to avoid any confusion.
During his practice in 72/R5 Fittipaldi comes in for a practice wheel change of all four wheels, the John Player Team Lotus mechanics doing the whole thing at speed as if during the race. It is interesting to see two mechanics loosen the front hub nuts, then each grasp a wishbone and lift the whole front of the car into the air while Team Manager Peter Warr slides a small stand under the car onto which they lower it. After changing the wheels they pick the car up again and he takes the stand out. Meanwhile mechanics at the rear are using a conventional quick-lift lever-type jack. The whole operation takes 1'35"0, more than a lap lost, had they been racing, which gives food for thought. The objection to using quick-lift lever jacks at both ends is that such jacks need to pull the car towards the operator as it is lifted up, and if you get a jack at each end pulling simultaneously you get check-mate. If you get them unsynchronised the car rocks backwards and forwards and has been known to fall off the static jack. There is still a lot of development work to do in lifting up the modern Grand Prix car with its multitude of tubes and rods in the suspension area that cannot be used to take the weight of the car. Another thing that this Lotus demonstration shows up is that the wide alloy wheels with peg-drive are not easy to slot in place quickly and first-time. Chapman is preparing for possible weather changes in the race, rather than tyre wear, for the clear blue sunny skies of the middle of Spain have given way to grey skies and cold winds and the weather forecast for race day is not good. Just as the day before Fittipaldi has been the only one to get below 1'20"0, today Ickx puts himself at the top by being the only one to get below 1'19"0, with a fastest lap of 1'18"43, doing 32 laps of practice in achieving it, having done 31 the day before.
Hulme, Fittipaldi, Stewart, Andretti, Amon, Beltoise, Regazzoni, Peterson and Wisell all get below 1'20"0, and Revson with 1'20"11 undoubtedly would have joined them had the Cosworth engine in his McLaren not consistently hesitated every time he opens the throttles wide. Hailwood and Schenken in the works Surtees cars are very unhappy as their cars seem to want to spin the inside rear wheels on leaving the numerous sharp corners, while de Adamich is beaming happily through his spectacles for his private Surtees is giving no trouble at all and he is lapping faster than the works team. With John Surtees away in Japan, ostensibly for the purpose of winning the Japanese GP, there is an unhappy greyness about the Surtees pits. In this session Stewart puts in only 21 laps in 003 and 20 in 004, content with fourth fastest time and a position on the second row of the grid alongside Andretti; his team-mate Cevert is not smiling his usual radiant smile, for he is way down in row 5 of the grid. Peterson is only just ahead of Cevert, and alongside his fellow Swedish-ace Wisell, who is driving for B.R.M. in place of Marko who is in Italy having a go in B.R.M.’s Cam-Am cum Interserie car at Imola. Peterson does a few laps in Lauda’s 721 X March, but the Bicester firm are not bubbling over with confidence, whereas the McLaren team look extremely confident and quiet about the whole thing. Hulme has gone very quickly in the 1972 car, M 19C/1, but towards the end of practice he takes out last year’s car M19A/1 and goes even faster, deciding to use it for the race. Amon is in amongst the aces with the works V12 Matra, its exhaust note still being one of the best things that has ever happened in motor racing. Whereas Fittipaldi is fast and looked slow in the Lotus 72, Amon is fast and looked fast in the Matra, the French car appearing to keep him unduly busy, the nose rising and falling alarmingly under acceleration and braking, and there is a lot of that at Jarama.
It is braking that appears to be worrying Gethin more than anything else with the P180 BRM, it looking very unstable on some corners. Beltoise does a mere handful of slow laps in his P180, putting all his efforts into the 1971 P160. Graham Hill is well and truly beaten in the endurance stakes, doing a mere 45 laps in the two hours, as both Revson and Cevert cover 47 laps each and Wilson Fittipaldi runs him close with 44 laps, so that the Ecclestone team of Brabhams still hold the distance and reliability record for a two-car team even if they do not break any lap records, the two drivers amassing 182 laps between them in the two days. By sheer weight of numbers the BRM drivers, with six cars, amass 288 laps of practice between them, the result of it all being one car in the middle of the third row of the grid, one in the fourth and the rest down at the back. Lotus achieve one car on the from row and one car on the back row for a total of only 118 laps, and Ferrari achieve the best result with one car on the front row in pole position, one on the second row and one on the third row, for a total of 168 laps. Taken all round, practice is very tidy and orderly, no one doing anything desperate or heroic and on the Sunday quite a lot of spectators turn up to watch the activities. The result of it all is that of the 26 drivers taking part all but Lauda and Beuttler improve on the existing lap record set up in 1970 by Jack Brabham, in 1'24"3 and the same 24 are all faster than the fastest practice lap of that year, which is 1'23"9, also by Brabham, so that something has been achieved in the past two years, even if it is only tyre development. At 1'25"48 Beuttler is deemed too slow to be allowed to start, so the brand new March 721G is loaded onto its trailer and covered over. In actual fact the fuel system is still presenting problems and the car is nothing like ready to race.
Monday morning dawns depressingly wet and cold, but the rain soon stops and by mid-morning the Jarama circuit is drying rapidly, aided by a strong wind blowing from the snow-capped Sierra de Guadarrama, to the north-west of the circuit, this wind being icy cold and freezing the occupants of the grandstands along the main straight opposite the pits. The start is due to take place at 12 noon and the race length was 90 laps of the 3.4-kilometre (2.12-mile) circuit. Everyone is allowed some warm-up laps to see the condition of the circuit, during which time all vestiges of damp disappear from the track and the twenty-five cars are lined up on the dummy-grid ready to race under dry conditions, though there is a bit of a flutter in the tyre department when a few spots of rain start to fall, but nothing develops. The whole field moves forward to the starting grid and as the Spanish flag is lowered everyone gets away. Lowered is the operative word, for the race director brings the flag down in a slow steady movement and most drivers expect it to flash down. Not so Hulme, who is gone from the centre of the front row at the first ripple of the starter’s muscles, while Ickx and Fittipaldi wait until they see some definite movement of the flag. The lead that Hulme’s McLaren has going into the first corner takes most people by surprise and all eyes are on this incredible start so that few see the red STP-March of Peterson swoop to the outside of the track, get into difficulties on the edge, rush back into the pack and bounce off Beltoise’s B.R.M., pushing the March nose cowling down at the right-front corner. Undeterred, Peterson continues in the rush to the first corner, promptly spins and causes an almighty dodging act amongst the tail-enders, during which Hill’s Brabham is punted to the side where the engine stalls.
No one is damaged and Peterson soon carries on his way, next to last, and Hill finally joins in in last place. Meanwhile, up at the front where it matters, Hulme is out in the lead, followed by Stewart, Regazzoni, Ickx, Emerson Fittipaldi, Andretti, Beltoise and Wisell, the rest being more or less in an orderly procession. Hulme’s superstart gets everyone switched on pretty quickly and he soon has a trio bearing down on him, in the order Stewart, Ickx and Fittipaldi. These three close up on the McLaren as one and passing the pits starting lap five Stewart goes by into the lead. At the end of the next lap Stewart still leads, but Hulme, Ickx and Fittipaldi are in a tight bunch and as they reach the corner at the end of the straight they are about to lap Hill’s Brabham. Stewart’s Tyrrell has already gone by Hill, so he knows the others are about to arrive and he keeps well over to the right, out of the way but the presence of the white Brabham in their line for the corner causes a bit of dodging and quick decision making on the part of the battling trio. In the sort of manoeuvre that Jimmy Clark would have revelled in, Fittipaldi shoots his black and gold Lotus 72 through on the inside of everything and comes out of the corner leading the group and in second place behind the fleeing Stewart. On the next lap on this same corner the Spaniard Soler-Roig goes off the road in his B.R.M., only the Spanish being concerned, as there are more interesting things happening up at the front of the race. With no one around him Fittipaldi closes up on Stewart at an absurd pace, even while the TV commentators are making platitudes about Stewart pulling out a commanding lead, just as he did so often last year. He actually leads for a mere four laps, because then Fittipaldi goes by the Tyrrell under braking at the end of the straight as if he is passing a back-marker, and it is then all over, he just draws away smoothly and relentlessly in a manner that brings a smile to Colin Chapman’s face and makes up for all the troubles of the past two seasons.
On lap 15 Ickx takes his Ferrari past Stewart and things settle down a bit in the order Fittipaldi (Lotus), Ickx (Ferrari), Stewart (Tyrrell), Hulme (McLaren), Andretti (Ferrari), Regazzoni (Ferrari), Amon (Matra) and a big surprise, de Adamich (Surtees), the bespectacled Italian going extremely well, and not only holding eighth place behind all the works stars, but keeping up with him, so that there is quite a gap before the rest of the runners arrive, led Wilson Fittipaldi and Hailwood. The gear-change on the B.R.M. of Beltoise is giving trouble, and he has gone to the pits and the limited-slip mechanism in Lauda’s March differential does not seem to be able to make up its mind when to slip and when to limit and he decides he can not drive the car properly, so gives up, aided by an accelerator pedal that is becoming sticky in its movement. Wisell’s B.R.M. is also in the pits by this time and just after Ickx has taken second place from Stewart, the second works March is withdrawn as Peterson has passed seven of the back-markers but the strain has taken the edge off his Cosworth engine and in addition there is a fuel leak and the handling has been put out a bit in the initial bumping and boring. Andretti overtakes Hulme and it looks as though we might he going to see the USAC driver fulfil some of the promise he has shown for so long in Europe, but it is not to he, for his Ferrari engine brakes soon after taking fourth place and he is out. Hailwood disappears into the pits with an electrical fault and a deflating tyre and Ganley also visits his mechanics to enlist their help in trying to make his B.R.M. engine run properly. While all this is going on Fittipaldi is buildng up the lead that Stewart is supposed to be going to do, it opens up to more than five seconds over the Ferrari of Ickx, while Stewart is not really keeping with them. After 25 laps a slight sprinkling of rain begins, not enough to make anyone dash to the pits or rain tyres, but sufficient to make everyone tread very warily on their slick dry-weather tyres.
Although the leading Lotus and the second place Ferrari are both running on Firestone tyres, they are using lightly different types, those on the Ferrari giving Ickx a slight advantage in this light shower of rain and he wastes no time in closing right up on the Lotus and at 30 laps the two cars are nose-to-tail, although Ickx never looks as if he is going to attempt to pass, and Fittipaldi does not look as though he is going to let him try. They are lapping the slower cars and Fittipaldi nips by the second black and gold Anus 72, driven by Walker just before the tight wiggly section behind he pits, so that Ickx loses a bit of ground awaiting his opportunity to lap Walker. The rain does not develop and the icy wind soon dries what little there has been, so the situation returns to square one and Fittipaldi goes on building up a secure lead. Beltoise gives up the unequal struggle with his troublesome gearbox, Wisell has crashed his BRM, and Stommelen has gone off the road with the Eifelland-March. Just before half-distance, with Fittipaldi comfortably ahead of Ickx, Stewart some way back in third place and seemingly content to stay there, Hulme goes by on lap 42 in fourth place, obviously in fourth gear when he should have been in fifth gear. The large roller-baring behind the final-drive pinion is breaking up in his Hewland gearbox, and this is letting the pinion move out of mesh with the crown wheel, chewing up the teeth on the pinion as it tries to move away. In turn this is allowing the gearbox mainshaft to move back so that Hulme is finding he can only select those gears obtained by moving the gear-lever forwards, i.e. second and fourth, while third and fifth would not engage. He struggles on, losing ground, but maintaining fourth place ahead of Regazzoni’s Ferrari, but on lap 48 he stops before everything falls out in the road, the gearbox casing being very hot, and that is the end of his race.
A similar trouble is affecting the Hewland gearbox on the Matra, and Amon has dropped back from sixth place and is going slower and slower, to finally retire at 66 laps. All this lets Regazzoni into fourth place, de Adamich into fifth and Cevert sixth, but the young Frenchman begins to get into the groove and he catches and passes the private Surtees driver. This lid not last long for the Tyrrell has a deflating front tyre and Cevert stops to have it changed, but a few laps later he is back again with a rough-running engine. The back-markers who have been chasing round trying to keep up with the pace set by the leaders are now beginning to get together in a serious race of their own and in their efforts are closing up on de Adamich, so that he has a line of cars in his mirrors Comprising the McLaren of Revson, the Williams-March of Pace, the Brabham of Wilson Fittipaldi, the Surtees of Schenken and the Lotus of Walker, but he remains unruffled and keeps ahead of them all, though he has been lapped by the leaders. Emerson Fittipaldi starts the last third of the race with a nine second lead over Ickx, whose Ferrari’s tyres are now deteriorating and preventing him from doing any last-minute heroics, but unbeknown to him or his pit staff, Fittipaldi is also in trouble. Before the start, on the reconnaissance laps the Lotus has started leaking petrol from a supplementary fuel tank that is being used as a safeguard. The main tanks should have got the Lotus through the race, but just in case of emergency and to play safe, both cars are carrying an extra four gallons. Only minutes before the start Fittipaldi has had to have his safeguard drained and blanked off, so that he starts the race knowing he is cutting things fine. During the closing stages the Lotus pit are prepared for an emergency stop but they reckon without Fittipaldi’s calm and shrewd approach to motor racing.
Once he is certain that Ickx is not gaining on him any more he begins to conserve petrol by not using peak r.p.m. when accelerating and by taking corners in a gear higher than he has been doing when building up his lead. In spite of this he is still gaining fractions of a second a lap over the Ferrari, which are soon mounting up, but undoubtedly if Ickx has been aware of the situation he would have thrown caution to the winds and put pressure on, thus making the Lotus use more fuel. As the race settles into this final stage the Tyrrell team are looking at Cevert’s car in the pits, disconsolately keeping Stewart informed that he is in an unimpressive third place, when the reigning World Champion driver is seen to be heading for the pit lane with no nose cowling on the front of his Tyrrell. Almost before he has come to rest his mechanics have got a spare cowling from the pit and are fitting it, but the Scot is making no signs of rejoining the race and Tyrrell finds himself surrounded by abandoned cars, a most unusual situation for the royal blue ELF team. It is given out that Stewarea radiator is damaged, for he has spun off the track and hit the barriers, so this lets Regazzoni into third place, even though he is just being lapped by the leading Lotus and his Ferrari team-mate. As the race runs to a close Fittipaldi comes up to lap the tail of the tail-enders yet again, which rather disturbs their formation, leaving Revson and Pace still hounding de Adamich, with Walker leading Wilson Fittipaldi and Schenken. Hill and Pescarolo are still running but not in with this bunch. With fingers cross and pussyfooting along, yet still gaining ground, Fittipaldi E, comes home to a well-deserved victory, much to the joy of Colin Chapman and the John Player/Team Lotus team. Ironically, and sadly, as Walker is finishing his eighty-eighth lap, just two laps behind his Brazilian team-leader, his Lotus coughs and dies, completely out of petrol. 

Even though he is carrying the extra four gallons his engine has been using more fuel, whereas the winning car that should have run out does the full 90 laps, thanks to Fittipaldi’s intelligent driving, which gets him home nearly 20 seconds ahead of Ickx, the Belgian driver having the consolation of setting a new lap record of 1'20"01. Things are so had for the Lotus team last year that they know they have to improve one day, and May 1st is the day with this very sound win in the Spanish Grand Prix.


Giulia Noto

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